The Discipline Of Discomfort

“Be willing to be uncomfortable. Be comfortable being uncomfortable. It may get tough, but it’s a small price to pay for living a dream.” -Author Peter McWilliams

At age seventeen I found myself the oldest person riding the bus to school each morning. Ashamed, I would curl up in the first over-sized seat near the driver with my hoodie pulled up over my head, drowsy from the early call of my alarm clock and the jabbering of the younger passengers around me. I rode the bus because I was fearful of learning to drive a stick shift, which was my ticket to driving the old family car to school at a more decent hour. Frivolous as it may sound, I carry this memory deeply and with much regret. It’s not the actual bus ride that bothers me when I think back, but rather now my realization of how often I let fear control my every move for the better three-quarters of my life. There I was, a senior in high school, miserably riding the bus unnecessarily all because I was afraid of the discomfort that came with learning a new skill.

One of the single hardest lessons I’ve learned in adulthood is the importance of learning to sit with uncomfortable feelings, especially when it comes to developing a career and taking on new opportunities. However, I wasn’t able to start chipping away at years of insecurity until I took a hard look at the root of my anxiety and developed the discipline to push through it.

In her best selling book, “Lean In”, author and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says, “Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure.” How many of us actually pass on opportunities because we feel that we simply can’t deliver? Or perhaps we become paralyzed from previous perceived failures, when actually these occurrences could be viewed as personal growth.

Personally, I struggle with the constant worry that I believe myself more talented than I actually am. If I let that feeling take hold too strongly, I’ll start imagining friends and colleagues critiquing my skills or thinking poorly of my work. This inevitably causes nothing but an overwhelming, unrelenting fear that puts me right back in that school bus seat: hoodie pulled up, frozen and hiding from the world.

How do we conquer those insatiable fears that settle in the bitter part of our stomachs? I’m not sure that we actually can blot them out completely. However, learning to sit with those discomforts on a daily basis can actually be a form of victory day in and day out. Sometimes, we need to push through the fear in order to claim what we would not otherwise have. Eleanor Roosevelt is famous for saying, “We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face … we must do that which we think we cannot.” Notice she doesn’t mention the erasing of uncomfortable feelings, but rather suggests tackling them head on.

…learning to sit with those discomforts on a daily basis can actually be a form of victory day in and day out.

Most truly remarkable opportunities in life require a lot of hard work and stretching beyond our comfort bubbles in order to become who we are really meant to be, both personally and professionally. As women, we can do a lot to encourage one another to fight through fears and practice the discipline of discomfort when those moments arise. Next time you feel that anxiety building and you desire to fall back, consider if you should rather forge ahead — what is really holding you back? The result for your future goals and dreams could be truly amazing.

…not to mention, keep you off the school bus for the rest of your life!

What are some discomforts that you’re facing at present? How can you forge ahead? 

Image via Shannon Lee Miller


Jenni is a photographer + blogger in Portland, Oregon. She enjoys tinkering in her art drawer and hanging out with her Corgi named Walter Matthau.

14 COMMENTS
  • Shana February 7, 2017

    Funny enough, my first thought was that maybe you were put on that bus to prevent something terrible like bullying or abuse by kids or adults. The other things is that you may have modeled bravery to one of those kids by taking your time in your development as you needed it, not worrying (so much, haha) about how it appeared. Instead you chose to honor your process. While society may make you feel cowardly for that, I actually see bravery. Cheers to an interesting, thought-provoking piece.

  • Natalie Redman November 16, 2016

    Love this. Such an inspirational discussion and one that isn’t touched upon often enough. Thanks for sharing!

  • Basia October 30, 2016

    Great work! I’m struggling with the same – I procrastinate because I’m scared to face my fears. Very eye-opening – thank you!

    X

  • Margaret Everton January 13, 2014

    This article reminded me that Katharine Hepburn adored swimming in ice-cold waters before coming in and warming up by a fire — and, of this, she said that people disregard how delicious it is to suffer. The suffering that makes our life bigger is great.

  • Tori McKimm January 13, 2014

    I totally struggle with this! Especially the point you made about worry you will think you are more talented than you are. I many times don’t reach for my goals because I worry others will look at me and think–what is that girl thinking, she will never be able to do that! It is so silly to let fear hold us back and I am going to try and live in the uncomfortable more this year!

    Thanks for a great read,
    Tori
    FashionBlingGirlyThings

  • Nicole January 10, 2014

    Great article. Just what I needed to read.

  • Emilie January 10, 2014

    This is a gorgeous article, really powerful ! Thank you for not just saying that it’ll work out, because maybe it won’t – but we will learn through it nonetheless.

  • Sarah January 8, 2014

    The last two years have been pushing me outside my comfort zone and I love it like I love the burn from a good workout. It’s changing me. Great article! Thanks.

  • Jack Jaffe January 7, 2014

    What an articulate, insightful article, Jennie. I loved it (and the pics you did for us!!)

  • Emily January 7, 2014

    This is exactly where I am right now. There is so much unknown in the next few months and I am feeling very uncomfortable not knowing what will happen, but it is good to remember that that is okay. Thank you for the reminder.

  • Jenni @ JARFLY January 7, 2014

    This year IS a great year for overcoming challenges, both the outlooks below are fantastic! Exciting to see these responses!

  • Haley January 7, 2014

    I love this. Right now I am taking a beginning French class at my university, and it is so scary for me. I am self-conscious as I struggle through, so this is exactly what I needed to hear! If I push through and endure I will become a much better person than I was before.

  • Jillian January 7, 2014

    This is such a lovely article, thank you! It is so easy for us to encourage girlfriends and to see the worth in their work but when it comes to looking at ourselves, that’s where the challenge is. 2014 is the year to put fear aside and forge ahead through discomfort!

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